Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble: Italian Woman Convicted of Witchcraft 300 Years Ago Finally Gets Retrial
A woman accused of witchcraft in 1715 will get a retrial after the local council in her hometown in Italy voted in favor of it earlier this month.
An Italian woman sentenced to death nearly 300 years ago for throwing a 5-year-old child into a pot of boiling cheese will finally have her chance at a retrial this year.
It will be little consolation for the defendant: Maria Bertoletti Toldini was publicly beheaded and burned after she was found guilty of witchcraft for allegedly murdering children, damaging a vineyard, and making land barren.
The municipal council in Brentonico, Italy, where Toldini was branded a witch in August 1715, voted this month to give the dead, childless widow a chance at postmortem justice by starting the centuries-old trial from scratch in a local court of appeals.
Historians speculate that Toldini, one of at least 50,000 European women who were executed after they were accused of witchcraft between the 16th and 19th centuries, was first labeled a witch after a family argument, possibly about inheritance.
At the time, claims of witchcraft were often used as the basis for the execution of women or outcasts who typically could not afford lawyers. Hysteria surrounding the threat of witches sparked mass trials, including in colonial Massachusetts, where witch trials in the town of Salem led to the imprisonment of hundreds and at least a score of executions in the 1690s, as well as a hefty dose of Arthur Miller for modern high-school students.
Brentonico’s mayor, Christian Perenzoni, supports the retrial despite some questions about whether the case remains relevant. Quinto Canali, the local culture minister who spearheaded the initiative to take Toldini’s case back to court, told the Guardian that bringing her to justice now signals a commitment to righting the wrongs of the past — no matter how distant that past might be.
“If you let something go that happened 300 years ago, maybe you will let something go that happens now,” Canali said. “The past is yesterday, but it is also 300 years ago.”
It’s a point not likely lost on the rest of Italy, which is still trying to come to grips with shoddy jurisprudence in the case of Amanda Knox, the American accused of killing her roommate in Perugia in 2007. She was initially found guilty but was released in 2011 after a successful appeal.
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